I’VE always been keen on earthworms. As I wrote in a previous article, I am told that as a child I used to wheel them around in a pram meant for dolls. (I didn’t have any dolls as far as I can remember; worms and snails were a lot more fun.)
Regular readers may recall me moaning that we had to have acres of rotten decking removed at the back of the house. A few weeks ago the job was finished at last, complete with bought-in topsoil which will become a lawn and a raised border (where I plan to grow gooseberries, having found them next to impossible to buy – I asked a greengrocer why there were never any on sale and he said that people could no longer be bothered to top and tail them). This soil is nice and easy to dig but it looks and feels sterile: it needs worms. These are widely available online. I ordered them from a firm in Ipswich and had a note to say they would be despatched the next day. They arrived the afternoon after that, with a notice on the box to say that if I was out they must be left in a safe, dry, shady and cool position.
Inside the worms were in bags:
I had ordered a kilo of Eisenia hortensis for the lawn-to-be – these live near the surface.
And half a kilo of mixed earthworms, the species not specified but said to be a mix of deeper and shallower burrowing types.
So to work. I started digging little holes, putting in maybe 20 worms, and covering them up so that the birds didn’t get them.
A couple of hours later I could not contain my curiosity so I uncovered three holes. The worms had all disappeared apart from one poking its head out.
Unfortunately the weather is cold and due to become a lot colder, and worms are sluggish when it is cold (I wonder if slugs get wormish?) but I am sure that when it warms again they will get busy improving and aerating the soil. These little creatures that we take for granted are so important.
Sheep of the Week
THE Derbyshire Gritstone is one of the oldest British hill breeds. It is believed to have been developed on the edge of the Peak District in the Dale of Goyt (now better known as the Goyt Valley) around 1770 by crossing the native limestone sheep with the Whitefaced Woodland, which I wrote about here.
It was known in its early years as the Dale O’Goyt sheep. The breed was improved from 1810 onwards by the introduction of merino rams which were imported by the 6th Duke of Devonshire (the family seat is at Chatsworth, near Bakewell in Derbyshire, and according to Wikipedia they have no connection with Devon).
By 1850 the farmers in the locality were establishing uniformity in the breed, aiming at a hardy, disease-resistant animal that could withstand harsh winters on poor ground. On October 15 1906, 27 farmers came together to form the Derbyshire Gritstone Sheepbreeders Society under the presidency of the 8th Duke of Devonshire.
Derbyshire Gritstone lambs grow quickly and produce prime quality meat. The wool is also exceptionally good and has claimed champion fleece twice in the last decade at the Great Yorkshire Show, the biggest agricultural show in the country. The sheep are strong and resistant to disease, do very well in a variety of habitats and are easy to handle, pen and transport. Despite all these attributes the breed is on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist. The Trust says it has the qualities and potential to increase the agricultural productivity of the ‘bleak’ upland areas of the north country and of Wales.
Here is a video (I love their black and white legs).
SOME readers will think me very ignorant, but I have to admit I had not heard of the Goyt Valley before I started reading up for this article. I now know that the Goyt runs between Macclesfield and Buxton and flows through Taxal, Whaley Bridge and New Mills before joining the Tame near Stockport to form the Mersey. It rises near the 210-year-old Cat and Fiddle Inn, which boasted that it was the second highest pub in England at 1,690ft until it closed in 2015. (The highest, 42ft higher at 1,732ft, is the Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire, which I wrote about in a previous Sheep of the Week.) The Cat and Fiddle is now claimed to be Britain’s highest gin and whisky distillery. The valley is beautiful and you can read more about it here.
Wheels of the Week
I WAS sorting out a box of old photos the other day (a weird thing I have found about boxes of photos is that you can throw out at least half but the box is just as full as before) when I came across these of my father with the Morris Minor Traveller that he bought in March 1954 in Huddersfield (CX being one of the town’s registrations, the other being VH).
Since the car no longer exists I can’t find the engine capacity on the government’s vehicle inquiry site, but I think it may have been 803cc. Wikipedia says: ‘The Traveller featured an external structural ash frame for the rear bodywork, with two side-hinged rear doors. The frame was varnished rather than painted and a highly visible feature of the body style. Travellers were built alongside the saloon model at Cowley minus their rear bodies. The half-completed cars were then shipped to the MG factory at Abingdon where the bodies (built in Coventry) would be mated to the chassis and the final assembly carried out.’
I don’t know how the performance varied between a saloon and a Traveller, but Motor magazine tested a four-door Morris Minor saloon in 1952. It reported a top speed of 62mph, acceleration from 0–50 mph in 28.6 seconds and fuel consumption of 39.3mpg. The test car cost £631 (£14,470 today, according to the Bank of England calculator).